When It’s Time To Stop Your Child’s Thumb Sucking

Understanding why your child sucks their thumb may be the key to helping them stop. You can rest assured that sucking is one of an infant’s natural reflexes. They begin to suck on their thumbs or other fingers while they are in the womb. Infants and young children may suck on thumbs, other fingers, pacifiers or other objects. It makes them feel secure and happy, and it helps them learn about their world.

Many parents have asked Drs. James and Samuel Owens, “Should I be concerned with my child’s thumb sucking?”. Most children stop thumb-sucking on their own by the age of 5. If your thumb or finger-sucking child is 5 years old or over, it’s time to break the habit. By age 5, many thumb and finger sucking children have a gap between their upper and lower teeth and their jaw development has changed, often causing problems with speech. Their tongue muscles also don’t develop correctly, making speech sounds like “s” and “th” difficult. If you wait until after your child’s permanent teeth come in to stop the sucking, they can develop “buck teeth” and an appearance that is not cosmetically pleasing.  If your child is still thumb sucking by the age of 5 please contact your child's dentist on ways they can assist in stopping the habit.

Parents should take comfort in the fact that not all thumb-sucking is damaging to the growth and development of teeth and jaws. For instance, a child who only places his thumb in his mouth at night to help him fall asleep and whose thumb falls out when he is sleeping is unlikely to cause any ill effects on his teeth. On the other hand, a child who sucks his thumb or finger constantly all day or all night is highly likely to displace teeth and/or deform growing bone.

So what is the key to helping them give up the thumb sucking? We looked to these tips from the American Dental Association -

1.    Instead of scolding the child for thumb sucking, offer praise for not doing so.

2.    Children often suck their fingers when feeling insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and comfort the child.

3.    Reward the child when he or she avoids thumb sucking during a difficult period, such as being separated from family members.

4.    The dentist also can encourage the child to stop sucking his or her thumb and explain what could happen to the teeth if it continues.

5.    Remind your child of the habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock over the hand at night.

If the thumb sucking persists, talk to your child’s dentist or pediatrician. He or she can prescribe a mouth appliance or a medication with which to coat the thumb to prevent the thumb sucking.